It is now widely accepted that the expansion
of human society threatens our habitat. This growth currently places
an ever-increasing burden on the earth's natural resources (oil,
water, farm land, forests) and is, therefore, not sustainable. There
is no doubt that in the coming decades plants will play a significant
role in easing these major challenges facing mankind. Plants will
provide more food and feed but also renewable sources of energy,
chemicals, pharmaceuticals and other commodities. The genetic improvement
of plants will yield better and novel traits such as increased biomass
production and resilience in suboptimal environmental conditions.
New technologies will make it possible to bring agriculture into
harmony with the environment.
Our understanding of plant genomes and plant molecular processes
has increased spectacularly over the last decade and it is only
now that the full potential of plants can be harnessed. For the
first time in the history of biology, the emerging field of systems
biology offers a framework to fully understand complex processes
such as plant growth. This requires the development of novel tools
and disciplines to integrate and model, on a multi-level scale,
the overwhelming number of dynamic
interactions between genes, RNAs, proteins and metabolites. Ultimately,
systems biology will enable us to predict how components of the
molecular machinery can be altered to obtain a desired product.
The ambition of the Department of Plant Systems Biology is to spearhead
the further development of systems biology approaches in the field
of plant sciences with the concrete goal to create improved crops
important for sustainable development. Such genetic improvement
can be accomplished either by molecular breeding or genetic engineering.
But the task is daunting and many of the required tools still need
to be forged.
Therefore, the Department chose to study in particular the mechanisms
controlling cell division and organ growth. The know-how generated
is key for the understanding and improvement of plant growth and
biomass production. The Department also contributes to the creation
of a sustainable world through its research on yield stability (stress
tolerance), heterosis, plant-derived pharmaceuticals, nitrogen fixation,
wood formation, bio-energy and the comparative analysis of plant
genomes. An important component of our activities is also focused
on translational research enabling the transfer of knowledge from
plant models to crops.
PSB, and VIB as whole, have a long standing tradition of converting
basic scientific research into successful industrial entities: Plant
Genetic Systems (now Bayer Crop Science), CropDesign (now BASF Plant
Sciences), Devgen and more recently Solucel. Today, these companies
together with the department form the largest European Plant Biotechnology
campus. The integration of fundamental research and industrial applications
is key to tap into the immense potential plants offer to build a
More information can be found at www.psb.ugent.be